Handwritten Siegfried Sassoon poem goes on show for first time

The handwritten version of The General, by Siegfried Sassoon will feature in an exhibition of anti-war protest. Picture: PA

The handwritten version of The General, by Siegfried Sassoon will feature in an exhibition of anti-war protest. Picture: PA

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A handwritten poem by Siegfried Sassoon is to go on display for the first time as part of a major exhibition on anti-war protest, the Imperial War Museums (IWM) said.

The manuscript of one of Sassoon’s most famous war poems, The General, will be feature at IWM London as part of the People Power: Fighting For Peace exhibition.

More than 300 exhibits from paintings to posters, banners and music stretching from the First World War to the present day will explore stories of anti-war protest and the creative expression used to campaign against conflict, the IWM said.

The General was written in April 1917 from Sassoon’s hospital bed in London, where he was recovering from a shoulder wound he received while leading a bombing assault.

The manuscript in the exhibition is a later handwritten version dated 7 February 1919, and is angrier than the one published in his second 
poetry collection, Counter-Attack, in 1918.

In this version of the poem, which contrasts the soldiers and the incompetent military leaders who sent them to their deaths, he changes the last line from “did for them” to “murdered them”.

Sassoon enlisted at the start of the war but became increasingly opposed to the conflict because of his experiences of trench warfare and the death of his brother at Gallipoli and a close friend in March 1916.

Serving on the Western Front, he was known by his men as Mad Jack for his reckless bravery and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry after bringing back wounded and dying comrades during a raid on enemy trenches in 1916. After convalescing from his wound in 1917, he refused to return to duty. He wrote to his commanding officer, enclosing a statement claiming “the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”, which was 
later read out in Parliament.

But rather than court martial a national hero, the authorities sent Sassoon to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh to be treated for shell-shock. He later returned to the front.

His poetry and post-war autobiographical novels have been important in influencing perceptions of the war.

Anthony Richards, head of documents and sound at IWM, said: “His experiences of the harsh conditions on the Western Front had an 
enormous effect on his 
attitude to the war.”

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